Sunken ship found in Lake Superior

Sep 22, 2014 by Guest Writer

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) recently discovered the wreckage of the 199-foot three-masted schooner Nelson. The vessel sank near Grand Marais, Mich., in May 1899 and rests in more than 200 feet of water.

Built in 1866, Nelson is “amazingly intact, despite laying on the bottom of Lake Superior for 115 years after foundering in heavy weather,” GLSHS said in a report on its website.

GLSHS volunteer technical divers and the society’s remotely operated vehicle positively identified the vessel as the Nelson.

The society’s underwater research team have mapped areas where ships were reported lost. Those areas are then searched from a 50-foot research vessel, M/V David Boyd. Side-scan sonar is employed to analyze the lake bottom and identify submerged wrecks.

In the spring of 1899, Nelson was in tow of the wooden steamer A. Folsom, along with the schooner Mary B. Mitchell bound for Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. A northwest gale with freezing rain and 50 mph winds descended on the trio and thick ice soon formed on the ships’ decks. Captain A. E. White of the Folsom was attempting to turn the ships and head for the cover of Whitefish Bay when he witnessed the Nelson’s towline part and the schooner rapidly sinking. He later noted that “…the Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff out a candle.” There was only one survivor among the Nelson’s 10 person complement.

“This is a particularly tragic shipwreck,” society Executive Director Bruce Lynn said. “Capt. Haganey of the Nelson remained aboard his sinking ship to lower the lifeboat, which contained the crew, his wife and infant child. Once lowered, Capt. Haganey jumped overboard to gain the lifeboat himself. He landed in the water, and upon surfacing witnessed the stern of his vessel rise up as the ship dove for the bottom. The line was still attached to the lifeboat, which took his crew and family along with the sinking ship.”

Capt. Haganey struggled ashore and was nursed back to health.